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Alphonse DAUDET (1840-1897) and Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
L'Arlésienne - drame en trois actes et cinq tableaux - adaptation de Max de Rieux (1872)
Lettres de mon moulin; Ouverture; Acte I - En Camargue, la ferme de castelet; Acte II - L'étang de Vacarès; Le cuisine de Castelet; Acte III: La Magnanerie; Farandole; Acte III La chambre de Rose Mamaï
L'Arlésienne - 22 music tracks from Bizet's incidental music
Rose Mamaï - Mary Marquet
La Renaude - Berthe Bovy
Vivette - Bernadette Lange
Frederi - Hubert Noel
Balthazar - Maurice Chambreuil
Mitifio - Robert Vitalin
L'innocent - Jacques Bernard
Francet Mamaï - Pierre Larquey
Patron Marc - Fernand Sardou
Chœurs et Orchestre sous la direction de Albert Wolff
Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux/Igor Markevitch (only the Intermezzo CD2 tr. 28)
rec. 1955, Paris, France, ADD. mono
ACCORD 476 764 7 [80:35 + 61:53]

Accord's long-running 'Collection Musique Française' merits laureate honours. The range is wide and the standards exalted. The series mixes comparatively recent recordings with ones from the 1950s - the dawn of the LP. One can cut the reeking nostalgia with a knife. Collectors of longstanding will be delighted to encounter retrievals of battered vinyl-bound cultural treasures such as the present Daudet drama with trouvailles such as élite recordings of Ravel and Debussy and rarities by LeFlem, Ropartz and Koechlin. Reviewing the whole series is a project I would certainly relish.

What we have in this two CD set is the abridgement of Daudet's L'Arlésienne made for French Decca by theatrical director Max de Rieux. This is not therefore for purists. The result is something akin to a radio drama in French with a full orchestral score woven in - a true incidental score.

It's a tragic little tale. Frédéri is in love with a girl from Arles (L'Arlésienne of the title) who is never seen in the play. All are delighted by the betrothal. Then a rejected lover brags to Frédéri of his affair with the girl. Frédéri calls it all off and falls into despair. He has a fling with Vivette, who loves him, then drops her and seems, to his family, ready again to marry L'Arlésienne. Joy is unbridled and he dances the Farandole at the St Eloi's Eve festivities. That night he kills himself.

The original play was based on a short story here read by Fernandel entitled Les Letters de mon moulin. The Daudet play was selected by Léon Carvalho who also enlisted Bizet to write the stage music. Sadly it did not turn out well.

At the premiere the audience at the Théâtre du Vaudeville were bored and were annoyed by the music. Bizet had similar 'luck' with the premiere of Carmen.

The tapes from which these CDs have been made are in at least fair condition. There is the occasional rustle of background noise but mostly the sound is well founded mono with seemingly no hiss whatsoever.

Here the actors act out the parts. This is not a reading with music. Character irradiates the spoken parts and this engagement with the listener is emphasised by the music which is adjusted in volume so that it does not dominate. Be warned: there is a great deal of dialogue and only some with music playing 'underneath'. Distancing effects are at their most dramatic in A la recherche de Frédéri. The breathless tenderness of the dialogue between Frédéri and the wronged Vivette is remarkable (CD1 trs. 11 -12). Sound effects such as the stridulation of Provençal cicades can be heard in the Balthazar-La Renaude dialogue (CD1 trs.17-18). The last scenes are truly moving and are played by all concerned for every sincere drop of emotion.

The play carries on after the end of the first disc playing 80:34 (if you count the Fernandel-read short story) and continuing for another 16:51 on CD2.

Wolff plays the music with massive emphasis - a monumental pesante quality e.g. in the famous Entr'acte - pastorale with its colossally deliberate bell-swung dance and its saxophone optimism (CD1 tr. 8). An almost Mahlerian carillon (CD1 tr. 16 and CD2 tr. 22) reflects similar stressing. It is at moments like these that one realises that the engineers of the time were more than happy to zoom in on individual solo lines. Perspectives are gorgeous rather than realistic. Tenderness is also accentuated in the intimate almost Herrmann-diaphanous soloistic string writing in Mélodrame (CD2 tr. 17).

The Accord notes are good but you should be warned that the text of the abridgement is not printed in the booklet. There's no difficulty with hearing what is said so that is not the issue. However if you wanted the set to help you brush up your classical French the lack of the text could be a disappointment.

Markevitch's Intermezzo (CD2 tr. 28) has been dragooned in to fill the gap left by the Wolff project and this, by the sound of things, must surely be a more recent recording - in fact it is, I think, in stereo. However for thunderous resonant impact you will go a long way to beat the Wolff finale of the fifth tableau (CD2 tr. 27)

With Wolff's bursting vitality (try CD 2 trs.1-2) there are many compensations. One is the masculine brusqueness of the 'pipe and tabor' Farandole to which Frédéri is said to have danced - he must have been going some to manage to dance at this rate.

The music-only tracks are a pleasure and can be heard in all their immediacy on tracks 6-28 (CD2) without the 'distraction' of the play. The Mélodram et chœur final is imposingly grand and positively trembles with majestic potency. The choir plays a wonderful role and its muscular grip can be sampled first in the men then in the women in the glorious Chœur (CD2 tr. 25). If there is a criticism it is that some of the music-only tracks end precipitately with ambience snipped.

A vivid and nostalgic retrieval and, I think, the only version of the play with Bizet's music.

Rob Barnett



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